Nicaragua prepares for elections
How great it was to return to Nicaragua, my favorite place to be, after 5 years absence! I knew from friends that it was "not the same as before". That the economy had deteriorated from its 1990 state. That unemployment was up above 50% ever since the government of Violeta Chamorro had instituted the structural adjustments to the economy that closed countless state owned enterprises and sold off many industries, returning a number to their former owners who had fled the country with the Somoza family in 1979. But I intended to meet some old friends, both Nicaraguan and North American who continued to struggle to achieve economic justice for all, and the right to survival for all Nicaraguans.
I found out that indeed there is still an active contingent of people who, despite the last five years have continued to struggle, each in their own way, to create hope where despair would be the more logical option. There are many non-profit organizations (although the majority of them are smaller than 6 years ago) struggling to preserve the cooperative agricultural structure that came to be during the Sandinista governance, to provide sources of clean water to rural populations, to bring health care and education to villages that have been abandoned by a government that has no resources for such expenditures. I met doctors who worked for the state health clinics who said that they had a short supply of medicines with which to treat patients, on the other hand I heard from several people that they have neither medicine nor sanitary conditions in the hospitals and that doctors give out prescriptions to patients, knowing full well that there is medicine in the private pharmacies but not a snow ball's chance in Nicaragua that their patient would be able to afford to by the medicine, even though it is a very common drug.
Perhaps the simplest and most graphic illustration of the present situation is the price of beans, at more than seventy five cents a pound they are equivalent to three hours wages for the average working person. It is not possible for a family to survive economically with the present state of the economy. On the other hand, life for the top 10% of the population is definitely more comfortable under the neo-liberal economic policies of the present government. The supermarkets are full of food, both domestic and some imported. There are no shortages for those who can pay. The black market has become the supermarket!
What do the people think about the upcoming elections Oct. 30? According to the most recent reliable poll, one third of Nicaraguans will be voting for Arnaldo Aleman, present mayor of Managua and much more right wing than Violeta Chamorro. Aleman is obviously at home among the returning Somocistas. Another third of the voters are tending toward Daniel Ortega and the Sandanista Party which continues to propose policy of a mixed economy in which the state would take an active role in redressing some of the inequities that persist and even grow more life threatening every day. Another 20% are undecided. The last 14% are divided up among some 17 parties with tiny constituencies.
The cab driver who was driving the only new cab I saw in Managua (a Toyota) was actively an Aleman supporter and was against the Sandinistas for ineptitude and bestowing all kinds of gifts on each other just prior to the change of government back in 1990, the "pinata" as it is called.
On the other hand at least three other cabbies (all of them driving old but well maintained Russian Ladas) were convinced that the Sandinistas were the only hope for a better future for their country. Almost all the busdrivers and many of the peasants that I saw were also committed to the party of Sandino.
There is a minority of each side that maintains that if the other side wins then there will be civil war, and some Aleman supporters fully expect that the United States will not "allow" Daniel Ortega to assume the Presidency once again. Perhaps they're right.
It may be that the choice facing the Nicaraguan people this month is much less substantial than it would appear, and less far reaching than the ideological differences between the two leading candidates. Since the Chamorro government has embarked on a course of seeking multilateral aid and has committed Nicaragua to comply with the terms of structural adjustment of the economy as a pre-condition for receiving aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, it is not clear just how much latitude Ortega would have to change course. Of course if the vast majority of the Nicaraguan people give him a mandate he could step out in resistance; but with out the resource of Eastern Bloc aid, which Nicaragua received during the '80's, it is doubtful that he could preserve the economy and the sovereignty of his country. Then again he has been leading his people against the hegemony of the United States since he was sixteen years old with considerable success. Who knows.
As to which way the election will go, no one should be so bold as to predict. In 1989 I stood in the center of the Plaza de la Revolucion in Managua as hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans cheered Ortega's candidacy for the presidency and I calculated that if everyone who was present and cheering were to vote for Daniel in three days then he would be president again (because 350,000 votes is a plurality in Nicaragua). But not all the cheering throng voted for Daniel, many of them must have voted for Violeta. So don't bet money on this election unless you know what is in the hearts of the workers and peasants of Nicaragua. I, for one, would not make such a presumption.
Tim Fogarty who traveled to Nicaragua during August. He brought back some beautiful hand crafted, double weave, all natural cotton hammocks which are available for $90 each, a portion of the proceeds support development efforts in Nicaragua. If you are interested in joining a two week work camp to help out on a Nicaraguan development project please contact him at 372-0901.
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